Motorola making fewer phones? It's about damn time

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Motorola Android Phones

Amidst its unveiling of three new phones at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Motorola made an announcement that seemed particularly relevant: The company plans to produce fewer phones in the coming year, focusing instead on marketing and developing a handful of core products.

The statement was made by Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha during a CES media session, as reported by the folks at All Things D.

"A lot of products that are roughly the same doesn't drive the market to a new place," Jha is quoted as saying.

Now, yes, we can point out the irony of this remark coming right after Motorola's launch of the Droid Razr Maxx, an update to the original Droid Razr that was introduced just two months ago, and also the Droid 4, a replacement for the six-month-old Droid 3 device. But hey, let's give the guy the benefit of the doubt.

Moto may not be the only company considering this kind of approach, incidentally: HTC reportedly said it'll also make fewer phones in 2012 in order to focus on quality over quantity. That report was based on anonymous sources and hasn't been confirmed, but still: Whether we're talking HTC, Motorola, or any other smartphone manufacturer, I say this is a smart and somewhat overdue shift in strategy.

Look, there's no denying that the tech world has become slightly oversaturated with Android devices these last couple of years. While it's great as a consumer to have a wide range of choice in our mobile tech products (believe me, I'd take that over a certain other platform's one-size-fits-all approach any day), you do reach a point where it gets to be just a teensy bit over the top. Choice is good, but there can be too much of a good thing. Heck, I study and review these gadgets for a living, and sometimes I have trouble keeping track.

The overload feeling seems to crop up in two increasingly common scenarios: (1) when you have multiple devices launching around the same time that aren't significantly different, and (2) when you have new "replacement" phones coming out for devices that aren't even close to a year old. These scenarios don't really act in anyone's best interest. For customers -- both new and existing -- they result in confusion and frustration. For manufacturers, they result in the two products competing and potentially cancelling each other out when it comes to public interest and mindshare. 

There's also the issue of ongoing support, especially when it comes to the age-old topic of Android upgrades. Let's face it: When Moto or any other manufacturer floods the market with phone after phone after phone, the odds of each device continuing to receive regular attention decrease. The end of the rapid-fire release cycle would allow manufacturers to keep a stronger focus on existing products; the Nexus line doesn't have to be Android's only guaranteed path to timely OS upgrades.

Choice is a big part of what makes Android appealing and successful, and the platform's ever-expanding array of interesting devices is a core part of that equation.

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But having 50 different devices that are practically the same doesn't enhance the notion of choice; it dilutes it. Focusing on a smaller number of unique and well-made handsets -- and then continuing to support those handsets over time -- will serve both companies and customers better in the long run.

Moto, I applaud your revised perspective. Now just stick with it -- and learn how to play the Android upgrade game while you're at it -- and 2012 should be one hell of a year.    

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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